Fans of director Terrence Malick’s previous work, The Tree of Life, will not only understand but appreciate his latest, To the Wonder, a film that explores the themes of love, loss and religion. The film tells the story of Neil (Ben Affleck), who is divided between his feelings for passionate Parisian, Marina (Olga Kurylenko), and country-fresh darling, Jane (Rachel McAdams). This love triangle of sorts plays on the backdrop of the struggles of a priest, Father Quintana (Javier Bardem).
When Neil whisks Marina and her ten-year-old daughter Tatiana from romantic Paris to dispirited, suburban America, we see Neil and Marina’s relationship unravel under pressure to change into a conventional American family. It is in this landscape that we witness Father Quintana’s own problems with his faith, as he confesses his own doubts and resignations. The film’s plot is simple and not at all innovative, yet there is something striking about it, be it its nostalgic feel or its aesthetically pleasing, thought-provoking shots.
To the Wonder’s strength lies in what it does not say as much as what it does. Told through voiceovers and scenic imagery, the story unfolds in a subtle manner, giving the audience time to really consider the themes being portrayed. The picturesque shots of the landscapes, as well as soft, intimate shots of the characters interacting, fill in the gaps left by absent conversation. On occasion this does tend to drag, as continuous images of cornfields, wistful glances and glowing sunsets does get a little tedious, especially in a film that is nearly two hours long. The film seems primarily concerned with cinematography and the aesthetics of filmmaking, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but may be off-putting to the average filmgoer, who could potentially see the film as dull and pretentious. What needs to be taken into account, though, is how gorgeously Terrence Malick portrays these huge, existential themes of love and religion, and how carefully and patiently he explores them, choosing to go with an understated approach rather an aggressive one.
Some poignant and considered performances from all actors involved, teamed with stunning cinematography and an encompassing orchestral score, shows that To the Wonder is another victory in storytelling for Terrence Malick, whose vision always manages to translate so beautifully on to the silver screen.
Dir. Terence Malick
Starring: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko,
Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams